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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Luaalaea Windward -- Pete Clines

Not long ago, August and I were on the Koolau Ridge behind Manoa Valley when we spotted a windward ridge originating from Maunawilli that we thought might be climbable. (It was essentially the “best of the worst” options in that area.) So I studied it from different angles during subsequent hikes and stared endlessly at topo maps until convincing myself that we should go for it. Then I managed to convince the others. Regulars August, Duc, and Laredo were in….along with newbie Albie Carcueva who had shown interest in joining us on our adventures. So after stashing my vehicle in Manoa, Duc and August and I rode over to the Maunawilli Falls trailhead to meet the others. We hit the trail at 8:40am, continued up the connector to the Demonstration trail, and took a left to search out the targeted ridge. We were treated to high clouds which kept us cool…but also did not obscure the ridge in question. I was aiming for a spot just to the right of the prominent puu at dead-center in the photo below.

I believe it was around 10:00 when I made an educated guess as to the point at which we should break off the Demo trail and start heading mauka. We began in guavas on a slippery slope, but quickly popped out into the uluhe zone. I realized we were one ridge left (east) of target, but we decided to press on as this ridge could possibly get us close enough and then we could leapfrog to the other. Below left is a photo taken by August when we popped out of the guava. I was terrified as you can see. Below right is my best recollection of the route I planned to get us above a rock band and over to the target ridge.

As seen below left in one of August’s shots, the uluhe section was thick. But it was far more negotiable than the ridges just a ways west of us, as seen below right in another picture he snapped.

Duc and Laredo alternated the front position with me through the uluhe, until we got to the base of the steep climbing. From there, I tried to lead us up a route that would provide some security and get us above the vertical rock band so we could cross to the target ridge on our right. Though very steep, there were lots of handholds in the form of guava and other roots/branches. We soon got to the elevation of the rock band…contoured right and up…and took a snack break on top of it in a relatively flat area with a dry waterfall chute behind us. This is the “gully” between initial ridge and target. It was during our break that we noticed Laredo had damaged his money-maker. No worries, blood eventually clots, and scars make for good stories when impressing the ladies.

Pleased with our progress so far, we began up out of the waterfall chute, steeply climbing to get to the crest of the target ridge. The tangle of vines here made for odd conditions – like climbing up a cargo net. Upon cresting the target ridge, we had excellent views and cooling trades. The vegetation continued to be both progress-slowing yet protective…until I reached a steep slope with only a dusting of green… and terribly loose soil. This short stretch would prove to be the trickiest section of the climb as the exposure would be significant if a fall occurred. As such, I offered to get to the top and anchor a rope for the others. By digging small holes with my fingers and knuckles, I was able to carve out just enough steps to make me feel comfortable on the ascent. Once on top, I was able to get a rope around a suspect root – the only thing around - and cautioned the guys not to pull any harder than needed. Below is a photo Albie took of that stretch. And August after the rope climb. All smiles again.

Following the rope section, the ridge narrowed noticeably, but never got too dangerous. August snapped a couple pics: one looking up, and then one below.

Around the 2,000’ mark, the ridge became less defined and more of a steep wall off the Koolau Ridge. But we were in luck! Strong, healthy uki uki grass littered the slope and I had no trouble plotting a course through it. We basically did mock pull-ups with a clump of grass in each hand, bracing with our feet when the ground was not too slick/steep. Tiring work, but much safer than the exposed sections that usually go with such steep climbs. And before long, I could see the slope above me cease to climb, and I hit the swath that is the summit trail! 2:10pm and ~2490’. Amazingly, this was the very spot where August and I had first noticed the ridge from above, and it was just west of the ~2600’ puu that I was using as reference on the topo maps. Laredo and then Duc quickly joined me to celebrate, and then August emerged from the greenery as seen below.

And shortly after, Albie joined us on top to conclude the climb! Laredo took the picture below using Albie’s camera. Note Duc’s hat whipping around in the wind. Moments earlier, the stiff trades had blown my (unsecured) hat skyward to my dismay. I attempted to chase it down the Manoa side, but had no luck finding it. Oh well, the only casualty of the day.

With the gang reassembled, we looked down on our completed ascent route. In August’s photo below, you can see the uluhe ridge (and swath?) that we began on, just left of center.

Following the requisite high-fives and hollering, we dashed off along the summit trail to a more
suitable lunch spot to the east. En route we had perfect weather and awesome views.

Along the way, August got a shot of me with our ascent ridge in profile. (red arrow)

At the lunchspot we relaxed and talked story for some time before readying for the exit at 4pm.
As planned, we made the very familiar descent into the Middle of Manoa enjoying the expansive town-side views all the way. About ½ way down, we noticed rescue chopper activity over towards Manoa Falls as it circled back and forth. We figured someone got injured attempting that deadly trail and were glad we stuck to more reasonable routes on this day.

As is custom, we all made the plunge into the clean, cool pool at the base of the ridge before making our way back out to the neighborhood and my waiting car. Out by ~6pm. Another “Wicked Pissah” adventure! (That’s Bostonian slang for Really Terrific.) Congrats to Albie on surviving his first bushwhack hike.

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